Emotionally closed-up and stuck in the quagmire of writer's block, aspiring novelist Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) is broke and going nowhere. He wants to be a novelist but seems unable to write a word, getting by on the good graces of his girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee), an ex-cop now working in department store security. But Jack's gambler father (Nicholas Ball) sets him up with a job as a dealer in a London casino though he despises gambling, it turns out that Jack's a world-class croupier. As reluctant as he is to return to casino life, it's apparent that Jack thrives on it he loves the routine, he loves adhering to the strict rules of conduct, and, despite his professed loathing of gambling, he loves watching the "punters" lose. The job makes Jack pull even further into himself and become almost a complete observer which inspires him to finally begin his book about a croupier named Jake. The complications begin when Jack sleeps with a fellow dealer (Kate Hardie), a serious violation of the rules, and then continue as he gets personally involved with a high-rolling customer (Alex Kingston) who lures Jack into helping her with a dangerous scheme. All the while, Jack dispassionately observes the events of his own life in voice-over, underscoring his own disconnect from both his own emotions and the consequences of his choices. Unreleased in the United States for a couple of years after production, Croupier is an underseen film by an underappreciated director Mike Hodges, who helmed the hard-edged 1971 Michael Caine vehicle Get Carter, as well as The Terminal Man (1974) and A Prayer for the Dying (1987). The script, by Paul Mayersberg (The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Last Samurai) brings a believable sense of place to the posh, exclusive casino where Jack works and smartly keeps the viewer off-guard by veering in unexpected, but fascinating, directions. Croupier is an intense, mesmerizing film, and one of the very best in the recent crop of noir knock-offs. Image Entertainment's DVD is a re-release of the original disc (exclusively licensed to Netflix) with nothing on board but the movie the letterboxed widescreen transfer (1.85:1) is clean with good color saturation, while the quality of the picture deliberately soft and quite lovely to look at. The DD 2.0 audio is occasionally uneven, with the overall volume levels noticeably rising or falling at times, but otherwise fine. Keep-case.
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